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20th Century Fox

15 Things You May Not Have Known About X2: X-Men United

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20th Century Fox

Nothing can be as shocking as seeing Magneto and the X-Men teaming up, but these hidden facets of X2 are worth a closer look.

1. Look closely at the 20th Century Fox logo at the beginning of the film. As it fades to black, director Bryan Singer had the “X” in “Fox” fade out slower as a little tribute to the X-Men. There are also dozens of other hidden Xs throughout the movie: the windows during the museum scene; the trim over the door in the Oval Office set; and within much of the characters’ wardrobe.

2. The plot of X2 was loosely adapted from the Marvel graphic novel X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, which also features Stryker as the villain, Magneto teaming up with the X-Men, and Stryker’s plot to kill all mutants by using an alternate Cerebro.

3. Singer hired many of the new cast members specifically because of their previous work.  Aaron Stanford (who plays Pyro) was hired because of his role in the small indie film Tadpole. Brian Cox (who plays William Stryker) got his part because Singer remembered him from the 1986 film Manhunter, where the actor played the first incarnation of Hannibal Lecter. Alan Cumming won Nightcrawler because Singer loved him as the Emcee in the Broadway revival of the musical Cabaret.

4. The film was primarily shot on sets at Vancouver Film Studios—the largest film production facility outside of Los Angeles—but exteriors of Stryker’s wintery base were shot at Barrier Lake in the Canadian Rockies in the province of Alberta. The production had to create over 40 tons of snow to cover the area because the unusually warm weather melted the natural snow.

5. The massive Cerebro set was built in halves. The walls could be shifted around to suggest a spherical shape depending on the angle of shots needed.

6. The museum in the beginning of the film was actually a convention center in Vancouver. The crew outfitted the space with dinosaur bones rented from real museums and private collectors by production designer Guy Dyas.

7. When Professor X stops time, the extras near the main actors were mimes.

8. In all other wide shots, Singer just had the extras stop in place.

9. The exteriors of Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters were shot at Hatley Castle on the grounds of Royal Roads University in Victoria, British Columbia.

10. Rebecca Romijn’s Mystique makeup took five hours to apply.

11. Singer makes a quick cameo in the film. He’s the guard who wheels Professor X into Magneto’s plastic prison.

12. X-Men staples the Danger Room, Sentinels, and the characters of Beast and Archangel were supposed to be in the movie but were cut for various reasons. The set for the Danger Room was actually built but scrapped because of budget concerns. Jubilee made it into the movie in a cameo, but her scene was cut for time.

13. Pyro’s lighter with the shark graphics is an homage to Jaws, Singer’s favorite movie. The director’s production company is also called “Bad Hat Harry Productions,” which is inspired by a line from Spielberg’s shark movie, too.

14. To perfect his performance as Nightcrawler, Cumming worked with movement coach Terry Notary, who had previously performed in Cirque du Soleil. Since X2, Notary has worked as a movement coach on Avatar, The Adventures of Tintin, and the Hobbit movies.  

15. The frozen barrier that Iceman creates between Wolverine and Stryker was a real, 8x11-foot, 3,500-pound block of ice installed and exploded on-set.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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